Imagine, for a minute, that you're in hospital and that the outlook is bleak. You have support from your family and friends, if you're lucky, and from Doctors and Nurses - but what you really need is somebody who has accepted the outcome and is impartial, a listening ear. So, who do you turn to? In the past, it has always been a chaplain - a religious member of the clergy who are there to reassure you of the religious aspects of life you are yet to face, the afterlife and your ongoing relationship with God. What, though, if you're not religious? Who do you turn to then? Well, Britain's first Humanist Chaplain has just taken up her role in Leicester.
So what does it mean? And, more importantly, why does it matter? Well, Jane Flint doesn't believe in the afterlife and, as a humanist, she believes that her message is going to really comfort those atheists that need a chaplain just like everybody else. It might not seem like it, and it seems to have flown under the radar, but this is seriously important - this is one of the first moves that we've seen that allows atheists the choice of a chaplain in hospital; this is one of the first moves that allows atheist patients the chance to find peace and comfort through somebody who shares a similar view - something I imagine is a lot more comforting than the thought of the afterlife if that's something that you don't really believe in.
This is a tiny step forward into what may become frequent in the future - hopefully this will be rolled out further, because comfort in the form of your beliefs is really important; empathy and compassion can come from anybody - but it's undeniable that it is usually more comforting to speak to someone who at least comes close to having similar beliefs to you when it comes to the thoughts of life and death, and what - if anything - happens afterwards.
So this isn't permanent, it will come to depend on the demand that Jane's services face within the two year period that she's currently been employed for. NHS England are obliged to provide the same care to non-religious patients - but this marks the first step that we've really seen towards making this a reality in the form of a paid job. It might not seem important - but it might just mark the future for chaplaincy within England.
What are your opinions on having a Humanist hospital chaplain?